About the Author · Education · Higher Education · Professional Development

Colleen? Where have you been?

Hi All – Yes, I’m still alive but I’ve been very busy adjusting to my new full-time job at Loyola University Chicago as their Director of Executive Eduction.  I am thrilled for this new chapter in my career path and was recently featured in an Executive Education Roundtable for Crain’s Chicago.  For more information on what I do for my day job, please check it out:  http://www.chicagobusiness.com/section/custom-content-roundtable-executive-education.

More stories, photos and blog posts to come including a great resource for a potty training bootcamp!

Professional Development

2MM: Professional Development 101 – Job Searching while Pregnant

Editor Notes:  I recently saw on Facebook a post from a long-time colleague and friend of mine that she recently did a job search while expecting her first child.  I thought this would be a neat topic to share with my readers and Kara graciously agreed.  She wrote about her professional development journey below and here is her story. 

While I was six months pregnant, my husband was relocated for his job which meant I had to start looking for a new job upon arriving in our new city.  Did I start looking while I was still in my current city; well yes, and I did have an interview; two actually with the same university, but neither was the right fit.

I had a phone interview prior to leaving my current city for a job in higher education and 10 days after arriving I had an in person interview with two people.   I was confident going into the meeting but was later told they were looking for someone with more experience.  It was a bummer to hear, however, I kept my chin high and continued to look for the right fit.

Also prior to leaving my current city, I had a phone interview with a non-profit was told they were waiting to hire until the third quarter and they would follow up with me in a few months. Upon arriving to our new city; I reached out to the non-profit and expressed my interest in the position.  I was told they would like to bring me in, in the next few weeks.  A couple weeks went by so I followed up with a phone call with the HR rep and left a message.  I also received an email from the HR rep thanking me for applying for the position, indicating that they had restarted their recruiting efforts and was writing to see if I was still interested in pursuing this opportunity and thanking me for my interest and flexibility.  With that I had called; expressed my interest and never heard back until a month later, via email, stating in light of our current organizational requirements; they reopened the search to find a candidate best suited to their needs and wished me the best in my search and transition to a new city.  Not too much of a bummer at this point since I had been interviewing…

Upon arriving to our new city; I had first round phone interviews with six different employers, five follow up phone interviews, three in person interviews, two follow up in person interviews and two offers of employment.  Both offers were great opportunities and I chose the opportunity that best fit me personally, professionally and for the first time, what was best for me and my family.  It was also evident that upon showing up to my first interview where I ultimately accepted the position; being greeted and spoken to while I waited was not only genuine but how everyone took pride in providing the best experience to those who walked through the doors and I wanted to be somewhere where I was part of helping to create the best possible experience for everyone involved.


Kara Fiala (Smith) recently accepted the Director of Stewardship and Advancement Services at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, VA. Prior to joining Episcopal, Kara spent time with the YMCA of San Diego County, the University of San Diego Department of Athletics, DePaul University and the Chicago Bears Football Club. Hobbies- Kara finished the Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013, Boston Marathon in 2012, finished Ironman Arizona in 2011 and competed D-I gymnastics back in the day.


Goals 101 · Professional Development

When the writing is on the wall at work

As I am in totally envy of my parents as they talk about their impending retirement, and seeing that their full time working days are numbered, I have started reflecting on my own career as I hope I am nearing the midway point of my working days. Granted, most of my retirement savings is tied up in the State of Illinois retirement system, but that’s a blog for a different day…

Throughout the course of my career I have always kept a few things in mind as my  golden work rules to live by:

  • Make time for professional development opportunities, when/if they arise.
  • Maintain open communication with your colleagues and managers.
  • Choose a job for the career and not for the money/benefits.
  • If you’re unhappy with your work situation, change it.
  • Know when the writing is on the wall.

The last point is a little more challenging for some people to see, especially when they are too comfortable at their current company which, in my opinion, one should NEVER be too comfortable. Becoming too comfortable allows people to let their guard down, blinding them to potentially new, challenging opportunities, either within their current company or outside the corporate walls.  When you become too complacent and take a blasé attitude towards your work, it shows, and this attitude will not help in finding your next opportunity.

Manage Up: If you’re keeping one of the golden rules of having open communication with your manager, you should be able to have honest conversations about the current status of your career path.  You should maintain this through regular meetings and not just at an annual review.  Your professional development is most important to you – so you must make it your duty to seek out those conversations with your manager.  If you feel you are in need to fulfill a new skill set that you currently don’t have, but see it listed on all similar job postings, see if you can obtain that skill while at your current employer.  For example, in my career path, many director-level and above positions in alumni relations required some form of fundraising experience.  I was able to have a conversation with my boss stating that I wanted the opportunity to take on a project in higher education fundraising where I could gain those skills, and I was able to accomplish this.

If you have a manager who is a little more standoffish, try to schedule a 30 minute meeting to be a quick professional development check-in with your boss.  The agenda for this meeting is set by you – not your manger.  This meeting should not be used to discuss your current projects and daily duties but rather your professional growth within the company.  Having these regular, open conversations about you and your career path are paramount to making your future opportunities happen, especially if your are investing in the company you’re working for and want to stay there for awhile.  Many times we feel like our company takes us for granted; that we are just numbers on the payroll and can be easily replaced.  My first post-college job was working at a post-production house in Chicago editing commercials.  I was being trained by a not-so-friendly guy who seemed really bitter that he was asked to train me.  On my first day of work he told me, “just remember – you’re replaceable”.  That statement has always stuck in my head and, while jaded advice for a fresh-faced professional, is sadly true.  As I’ve posted before, many companies don’t have the loyalty they once did toward their workforce.  While this is much easier said than done, it cannot be overstated: creating the opportunity to have those conversations is your responsibility, not on your manger’s.

When your professional development conversation is halted, then you know the writing is on the wall to gear up your job search.

When you finally have an “ah-ha ” moment at work and recognize that it’s time to start job searching, here are a few things to keep in mind to maintain your professionalism at work and to answer the question, “How do I not let my current boss know that I’m starting to look for new employment?”

Embrace LinkedIn: You have to start believing that you are always the only one who’s in control of your career path – you must decide!  Start by beefing up your LinkedIn profile page.  Many people are afraid that their current employers will see a LinkedIn page and question why they have one.  But that’s not the case anymore!  LinkedIn is used for as much job searching and professional development as it is for networking with old colleagues and keep up on latest trends in your profession.  In a 2014 Forbes.com article written by Liz Ryan, Ten Ways To Use LinkedIn In Your Job Search, Ryan addresses this very topic.

“Using LinkedIn, you can see who your friends know, where people have been and what they’re interested in, what people are talking about and who’s gone from Company A to Company B. If you’re paying attention, LinkedIn can absorb at least thirty percent of your job-search-related research load. LinkedIn can save you hours that you used to have to spend at the library or on some corporate database, researching who’s who and who’s where. It’s a new day! LinkedIn is a job-seeker’s best friend.”

Be Courageous: Recognizing the position you’re in with your company and having the courage to make changes that will effect your career path is key.  Many people stay at a position for a long time (nowadays, that is anywhere between 3-5 years without a title change) complaining about their boss, the company or the lack of opportunity to grow.  You have the power to change your situation at any time.  You need to start getting your resume and LinkedIn profile in order so you can start letting your network (both personal and professional) know that you’re seriously looking for a new opportunity.

Stay Open Minded: No opportunity is too small to not interview for, especially if you haven’t interviewed in a while – you need to get back on that horse.  Also, stay open-minded to all offers.  As I said, the ball is in your court as you still have a job and you’re job searching to see what else is out there. Maybe the pay is $10K less, but it’s a part-time position and you can work from home, but depending on your commute, family dynamic and future plans, that might be the best fit for you.  You never know what awaits you until you look.


Education · Higher Education · Op-Ed · Professional Development

Op-Ed: How current events will affect your career

Ever Monday night I teach ORGC 201 Business & Professional Communications at DePaul University.  I have 23 students in my hybrid class this quarter mostly made up of sophomores and juniors in a variety of majors. I’d like to think the students take my course because of the professor’s witty lectures, but the reality is that it’s a required course for most majors.  It’s one of those “life skills” courses combining public speaking with employment interviews that many students wait until their junior year to complete, but wish they had taken sooner. According to the ORGC 201 course description in the DePaul course catalog:

Employers demand strong communication and presentation skills. In order to compete effectively in the job market, students need to acquire and practice the written and oral communication skills needed to interview successfully. Furthermore, as a professional you will not only be expected to be a confident speaker, but also to organize and prepare clear, concise and interesting presentations. You will also need to communicate effectively while working as the member of a team or in other group contexts. In developing the knowledge, competencies and skills needed to communicate effectively in these and other contexts, this course will embrace opportunities for both critical thinking and applied problem solving. (Formerly CMNS 201)

As part of the course, the students can obtain an easy five points of extra credit when they bring in a news article they recently found and present to the class 1) a summary of the news article, and 2) an explanation of how this current event will impact his or her career path.  This is a concept that I introduced to my course when I first started teaching in 2005.  I wanted my students to realize that the current events of today will make an impact on their future career paths.  After taking attendance, I start each class with, “So does anyone have a current event they’d like to talk about?”  This week my students and I discussed a variety of topics from the Iowa Caucasus to the State of Illinois possibly expanding medical marijuana for PTSD patients.

The reason I bring current events into the classroom on a weekly basis is that, while I was a college student, I was greatly impacted by events that happened in 2001 which, in turn, impacted my career path.  In the fall of 2001, I was about to graduate from Eastern Illinois University with a BA in Speech Communication, focusing on broadcast journalism.  With the experience I gained and the amazing resume tape I created at WEIU-TV, I thought I had my job search in the bag.  However, a number of entry-level positions were eliminated from many Chicagoland stations in the post 9/11 broadcast era, including a morning writer position I had my eye on at WGN.

With no job prospects on the horizon, I had to quickly develop a Plan B and found a digital editor position.  I was extremely grateful to a cousin of mine for connecting me with the owner of NuWave Productions in Palos Hills for a non-paid internship opportunity.  My time with NuWave allowed me the opportunity to explore different editing software and even participate in an infomercial.  During my internship I continued to apply for other positions and, eventually, I landed a full-time position as an assistant editor at Daily Planet, a post-production house in Chicago.  I was so excited to commute into the city for a 12 hour work day while making a cool $19,000 a year (ah – young, naive Colleen! She’ll learn).

While my dreams of reporting the daily news were quickly diminishing, I knew another career path would be just around the corner.  Then I was offered the opportunity to help students plan out their own career paths in higher education at Robert Morris University in Chicago, and I had a new calling.  Working and teaching in higher education has been the most rewarding career path that I could have ever imaged!

To remind students that current events are affecting their career planning, I started a scholarship at EIU at few years back which the department still funds.  Per the College of Communication website:

Fashing Speech Scholarship – Established in 2006 by communication studies alumnus Colleen Fashing, this award supports a student who demonstrates strong public speaking skills and an ability to connect current events to a future career. The student receiving the scholarship must complete a manuscript connecting a current event with a future impact on a career and then present a speech to a faculty panel.

With the lack of state funding in Illinois for public colleges, many students are beginning to see the direct impact current events can have on their future career paths and, realistically, their college education, especially students who rely on MAP funding for scholarship dollars.  The students at EIU recently started a social media campaign labeled #FundEIU via Facebook and Twitter hoping to bring a spotlight on the very real impact the state budget is having on their university.

If you’re so inclined to support the students in the College of Communications at EIU through this scholarship opportunity, please feel free to donate to Eastern Illinois University via their annual fund giving page.  Please note that if you are working full time your company may offer a matching gift opportunity for the university.

Take a look back at your own career path to see if you can pinpoint a current event that impacted you.  This might be a topic that you’ve never thought about until now.  Once you can recall this said event that made an impression on you and your career choices, share that experience with a young professional.  Your shared experience will allow the young professional to be aware of current events and how it really can make a different in the career path they choose.

Op-Ed · Professional Development

An Op-Ed: When Company Loyalty isn’t Enough

In the past, part of my career path involved advising on professional development and career planning for college students, community members and adult learners.  Today, I still teach professional development courses and offer advice on career planning when asked.  With 12 years of experience and two major dips in the economy, I have heard and seen many challenges facing job seekers in their quests for better employment opportunities.

One recent frustration I’ve witnessed on now two different occasions is when long-time workers are being “pushed out” of their current positions by their employers.  These hard-working individuals who have been with their employers 15-plus years and who are nearing retirement age are being asked to step aside for a young generation of workers (who have little to no experience).   One example I saw was when a full-time job description was modified to encompass fewer work responsibilities and made a part-time status.  While some people may consider this reduction of work as a blessing, to a hard-working, highly-motivated staff member who is dedicated to his or her profession, these changes may make one feel unappreciated and inadequate while doing a job for a company to which they have been loyal for many years.  Plus, when an employer modifies an employee’s job description from full-time to part-time status to save money on benefits, the employee may be forced to seek alternative employment in order to continue their medical benefits and retirement savings.  I have also seen an educational requirement for a position be upgraded from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree with CPA preferred, all while the job duties and responsibilities remain unchanged. Why would an employer attempt to make these modifications to a job description unless they were looking for new talent to fill a roll that already exist within the company?

While it’s cheaper for employers to hire a fresh college graduate who may accept a position with a reduced salary compared to the current salary being earned by a loyal worker, my question to these employers is, what happened to having loyalty for your employees?  An interesting fact is that the millennial generation (which is replacing the seasoned workforce) is more likely to have a greater number of jobs and career paths in their lifetimes than any other generation.  This now-acceptable bouncing around from career to career is likely due to wanting more challenging opportunities at work, higher salaries, more room for professional advancement, and to fulfill a desire to work for a company with a socially responsible mission statement. So riddle me this: why are employers hiring this generation who are not loyal to their company, but are more loyal to themselves as individuals?

In a recent PRNewswire articleMillennials and their employers: Can this relationship be saved? Businesses at risk of losing top talent, according to Deloitte’s global annual survey, “Two-thirds of Millennials express a desire to leave their organizations by 2020.”  If you’re an employer thinking about replacing a seasoned worker who could be retiring within the next ten years with a millennial who may be leaving your organization within the next 4 years for a new opportunity, you may want to think twice.

To bridge this gap, my suggestion would be for more companies to initiate mentoring programs, partnering seasoned workers with newly hired staff, especially if the new hires are millennials.  One concept human resource offices have been exploring is the notion of “reverse mentoring,” as highlighted here in a 2010 article from the Harvard Business Review.  While I agree that allowing millennials to help mentor the seasoned employee on social media may be beneficial to the organization, I think adding in a subliminal component of allowing the seasoned employee to help train and mold the millennial as a replacement worker for when they retire is the key factor missing from this equation.

While there are many pressures which companies face, especially in today’s economic uncertainty, cutting costs cannot always be the driving force for hiring and staffing decisions.  I encourage all managers to take a good look at their workforce to see where there are gaps, try to implement cross-training opportunities when available and be a kind human with appreciation for your workforce as many of them spend more time with you and on your business than with their own families. The hard working Baby Boomer generation needs to be shown appreciation by their employers over a bottom line.